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Foresters lose polar opposite games

HOME RUN: Sophomore right fielder Paige Eichelberger hit a two-run home run during Huntington’s 17–16 loss in game one of a doubleheader against Bethel on Friday.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

The Huntington University softball team dropped a pair of Crossroads League contests on Friday against Bethel, losing a wild 17–16 decision in game one before falling 2–1 in the second half of the doubleheader.

The defeats dropped the Foresters’ season record to 11–21, including a 7–15 mark within their conference.

Bethel opened game one with a run in the top of the first to grab a quick 1–0 lead. The score would remain until the bottom of the second inning, when an RBI single by junior shortstop Joelle Beals brought in sophomore third baseman Kennedy Krull to tie the contest at 1–1.

The Pilots opened the game wide open in the top of the third, blowing the doors off with eight runs, chasing sophomore starting pitcher Mallory West in the process. The Bethel onslaught, which gave the Pilots a 9–1 lead, was highlighted by a three-run home run by Morgan Bales.

Despite the Bethel hit parade, the Foresters were not ready to call it quits, as Huntington answered with a trio of runs in the bottom of the frame. Following a lead-off double by freshman second baseman Denaia Rice, sophomore right fielder Paige Eichelberger crushed a 2–2 pitch over the wall to cut the Forester deficit to 9–3.

“I saw a lot of outside pitches, which I kept fouling off, so I was waiting for one to come down the middle,” Eichelberger said. “I was excited when I hit the home run because we needed to score some runs at that point in the game.”

Four batters later, Beals again brought in Krull with an RBI single, chopping the Bethel lead to 9–4.

However, the Pilots picked up where they left off in the top of the fourth, tacking on another six runs to take hold of a sizable 15–4 advantage, highlighted by a grand slam by Maribelle Castro.

Again not ready to pack it in, Huntington answered right back with six runs of their own in the bottom of the frame to continue the wild day of offense to bring the score to 15–10.

Junior left fielder Karley Blankenship started the rally with a lead-off bomb over the left field wall to make the score 15–5. Four batters later, Krull singled to shallow left, scoring Eichelberger to cut the deficit to 15–6.

Three batters later, sophomore center fielder Sophia Beachy’s bases-loaded routine fly ball was misplayed by the Bethel left fielder, which allowed all three of Huntington’s base runners, sophomore first baseman Jada Crofoot, Krull and Beals, to score, cutting the Pilot lead to 15–9.

In the ensuing at-bat, senior second baseman Marty Harris singled, scoring Beachy to bring the score to 15–10.

The Foresters shut down the Pilot offense in the top of the fifth and continued to pour it on offensively in the bottom half of the inning to complete the comeback with six more runs.

Rice started things with a solo shot over the wall in left field to make the score 15–11. Later in the inning, Beals singled to deep left-center field, scoring Eichelberger, while Crofoot also scored on a wild throw by the Bethel defense, cutting the Huntington deficit to 15–13.

Four batters later, with the bases loaded, Blankenship walked, scoring junior catcher Amber Klopfenstein to bring the Foresters within one run at 15–14. However, after the walk, the Bethel catcher fired the ball over the Pilot pitcher’s head and into the outfield, allowing Beals and Beachy to also score and give Huntington their first lead of the day at 16–15.

However, Bethel quickly regained the lead in the top of the sixth, as the Pilots’ lead-off batter doubled before the following batter, Quinn Slattman, drove a two-run bomb over the wall in center field to retake the lead for Bethel at 17–16.

Just two hits were recorded the rest of the way with neither team finding the scoreboard again, resulting in the Pilots escaping with a wild 17–16 victory.

“We should win that game (with 16 runs),” said head coach Doug Gower. “But, we gave up an eight-run inning and a six-run inning. Then, we had many people on base that we left on base.”

West lasted two and two-third innings on the mound for Huntington, giving up eight hits and nine runs, though only five were earned. West struck out three Pilot batters.

Freshman pitcher Anna Weigold came on in relief, throwing two-thirds of an inning, allowing six hits and six runs, five of which were earned.

Sophomore pitcher MacKyndsea Burke pitched the final three and two-third innings, giving up four hits and two earned runs to pick up the loss for the Foresters.

Beachy led the way offensively with four RBIs and also scored two runs. Beals, Blankenship and Eichelberger all posted a pair of RBIs, while Harris, Krull and Rice rounded out the RBI production with one each. Eichelberger and Krull tied for the team lead with three runs scored apiece.

Game two proved to be an entirely different story, as offense came at a premium.

Bethel again started the game with a run in the top of the first to grab an early 1–0 lead on an RBI sinlge, which would serve as the game’s score through the first three innings of play.

The Pilots doubled their lead in the fourth inning to go up 2–0, as Bethel’s runner came around to score on a missed catch by the Forester defense.

Just three hits were recorded from that point to the middle of the seventh, with neither team breaking through, sending the game to the bottom of the seventh with the Pilots holding a 2–0 advantage.

Huntington quickly went to work in the final frame, as Crofoot led off with a single. Klopfenstein came on to replace Crofoot on the base path and swiped second base in the next at-bat to get into scoring position.

One batter later, Stacy singled up the middle to bring in Klopfenstein and get the Foresters on the board, cutting Bethel’s lead to 2–1.

Two batters later, Beals dropped a single just inside the left field foul line, giving Huntington two base runners with a chance to tie or win the game.

However, the late comeback bid fell short, as the next batter struck out looking to close out a 2–1 win for the Pilots.

“We’re just not finding a way to win,” Gower said. “That’s what it’s coming down to. We’re in there to the end, but we’re not finding a way to win. We just have to find it. … As a team—we’re pretty young—we just gotta get it. No excuses. The games are there to win. We just gotta find a way to win it.”

Burke tossed all seven innings for the Foresters, allowing six hits and two runs, though one was unearned. Burke fanned five Bethel batters in the losing effort on the mound.

Gower praised Burke’s pitching all day long, as between the two games, she threw 10 and two-third innings.

“MacKyndsea Burke did a great job on the mound,” Gower said. “(She) pitched really well. (She) had to pitch almost two full games.”

Huntington mustered just five hits in game two, with Crofoot leading the way with a pair of base knocks. The Foresters struck out 10 times in the contest.

Gower expressed having confidence can help fix some of the team’s shortcomings, as a more confident approach should allow the batters to be more productive at the plate.

Huntington hosted RV Taylor on Saturday, but results were not available as of The Herald-Press’s deadline.

The Foresters will return to action on Tuesday, hosting Spring Arbor for a pair of Crossroads League battles. First pitch for game one is slated for 3 p.m. with game two to follow.